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The challenger argues that the job should be expanded beyond what he calls "clerical work."
Monday, October 21, 2013
In past elections, Roanoke Commissioner of Revenue Sherman Holland has faced opponents who argued he was doing a bad job.
Republican Roger Malouf doesn't quibble with Holland's performance as far as it goes. He just thinks Holland is skipping the most important part.
"He does the clerical work of the job adequately," Malouf said. But Holland "thinks as long as he's performed his clerical duties, he's done his job."
If elected, Malouf said, he would push to change the parameters of what the commissioner does. He'd call for control of real estate assessments and would work with the city council to advise them on not only taxes, but spending.
Holland thinks Malouf is running for the wrong job, because his ideas are all about spending and legislation, not what the commissioner of revenue does.
"He's got some beef with city council," said Holland.
Holland, 60, seeks his fifth term in the office, having survived a challenge in 2009 by just 361 votes, or less than 1 percent. Before being elected, he worked for 16 years in various roles in the commissioner's office.
Though his management was questioned by the city auditor in 2005, the city council chose to take no action based on the finding, and no one's raised any questions since, Holland said.
His 2009 opponent, Douglas Walker, made an issue of Holland lacking Virginia's master's certification for commissioners. Holland has since completed all but one course for the certificate, and says that after the election he'll take care of that.
"That's a nice warm fuzzy to have," but you can do the job without it, he said.
Malouf, 58, said he comes from a family of Democrats, and has spent his life in business and real estate. He worked with his father at Double-Cola Bottling in Roanoke and bought his first property at 22. He's been a real estate investor ever since, and for the last 18 years has been a real estate agent.
He never questioned Holland's qualifications, but said the role as Holland executes it is essentially that of a clerk.
Holland fails as a protector for the people he represents, Malouf said, and sends out 45,000 real estate tax bills a year without questioning them, he said.
Malouf said he'd push to take over control of real estate assessments, which in Roanoke are handled by the office of real estate valuation, which is under the director of finance.
In some 60 localities in Virginia, assessments are under the commissioner of revenue, said Ross Mugler, president of the Commissioners of the Revenue Association of Virginia.
Malouf said Roanoke's arrangement gives the council the power to control assessments, the tax rates and the spending. "They've got a blank check. ... They have a philosophy of taxing according to the spending," which is the opposite of what it should be, he said.
By controlling assessments, he could change the way the council behaves. "If I control your wallet, you can't spend but so much," he said.
Changing control of assessments would require a change to the city charter by the General Assembly.
Malouf believes the legislature can change a charter unilaterally if they perceive a mandate from the people, and that his defeat of a four-term incumbent Democrat in a left-leaning city like Roanoke would constitute a mandate.
The state code, however, only describes charter changes initiated by the local elected body or by a referendum.
He also said he'd like to advise the council on its spending decisions, but Mugler said any notion that that's part of the commissioner's prescribed duties "is basically, on the truth meter, that's false."
Holland said such ideas support his contention that Malouf is not qualified for the job.
"Where's his experience with taxation?" he asked. Malouf may work in real estate, he said, but what about the other taxes the commissioner's office bills, such as personal and business personal property taxes, state income tax, business license taxes, bank franchise taxes, and others? Holland asked.
"Anything the commissioner can do," Malouf said, "I've done it in my private life."
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